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Last Updated: 11/20/2017
 

 Article of Interest - No Child Left Behind

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Commentary: Now What??? What the Fight Over Special Ed Reform Is All About
by Calvin and Tricia Luker, OurChildrenLeftBehind.com
For more articles like this visit http://www.bridges4kids.org.

 
With this post we would like to try to recapture history and look forward now that the Senate Bill has been released. Our Children Left Behind is receiving email questions which we hope to answer.

Before going forward however, we ourselves have heard from families with have children with disabilities and families who have children without disabilities. This tells us that the word is getting out through the many internet and list-serve resources available to families. We have eight days left in the Senate Bill comment period. Time is of the essence, and those who have deeper questions might better spend their time following some of the web resources they can link to from www.ourchildrenleftbehind.com. There are 6.6 million children and young adults receiving services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act [IDEA] and 6.6 million different vantage points and stories accompanying our children. While we believe all of us should aggressively seek full information so that we can develop our own positions on the reauthorization process, we maintain that it is the individual stories – of success and failure – that are most critical for our legislators to hear.

Now on to the questions.

What is IDEA?

IDEA is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, first passed after decades of family effort in 1975. The history of IDEA is briefly discussed in our first article at the bottom of this page.

What is the House Bill?

HR 1350 is the Bill that passed the US House of Representatives on April 30, 2003. Articles on Ourchildrenleftbehind and our links more completely detail what H.R. 1350 would do if it became law. Suffice it to say that it guts all fundamental protections for children who are disciplined for conduct related to their disability; guts the administrative due process procedures that permits parents to challenge school decisions on programming, evaluations, placement, etc.; permits 3-year IEPs; eliminates short-term objectives; leaves family attorney fee schedules to the whim of state governors without providing equal power for that governor to set equal fees for school district attorneys; permits 10 states to seek federal waivers of the application of IDEA laws; and other similar provisions. We think it is bad news for kids and families. Sixty-nine+ consumer representative and family advocacy groups and organizations have publicly opposed HR 1350 for various reasons.

What is the Senate Bill?

SB 1248 is the Senate’s version of the Bill amending IDEA. It was released last week and we still are digesting it – comparing it to IDEA ’97 [the current law] and HR 1350. The Senate Bill, from our reading, gives back some of what HR 1350 would remove, but still has deficits in the areas of due process protections, statute of limitations, short term objectives, and other similar issues. There is a link on this website, to a side-by-side-by-side comparison of the laws done by Deb Brown at http://www.geocities.com/vshr1350/SIDEBYSIDE.htm.

What is the recommended stance?

Students, parents, families, advocacy and consumer based organizations, many educators and policy makers are taking the broad position that IDEA ’97, which only has been fully implemented for less than two-school years in most states, should be carry forward in thrust and protection for students. Most of the changes found in HR 1350 came from school administrators and school boards, rather than from families who pretty well were cut out of the HR 1350 drafting process. SB1248 is more of a compromise between what HR 1350 proposes and what IDEA ’97 currently requires. While the Senate seems to have listened more carefully to students and families than did the House of Representatives, its Bill still reflects many of the changes advanced by school administrators.

The common recommendation on the student/family side is that student’s and families should concentrate on individual stories that show why IDEA ’97 should not be amended or show why the amendments proposed by the House and Senate Bills should be rejected. It is from our perspective a common fight with highly individualized features.

What are the present talking points?

There are many, many informative websites that have analyzed both Bills and have formulated talking points. Again, we suggest that you follow our links to those sites to gain more information about potential talking points. We find the DREDF and NAPAS sites particularly helpful.

Why reauthorization now?

If no reauthorization is done will IDEA ‘97n expire? Part B of IDEA, which addresses the eligibility and IEP process and contains the primary procedural safeguards is permanently authorized. If it is not amended this year, its provisions will carry forward. Part A, which contains the Congressional findings and purpose, definitions, creates the Office of Special Education Programs, abrogates State Sovereign Immunity and requires promulgation of regulations would continue in force without any Congressional action. Part C, which covers infants and toddlers with disabilities and Part D which applies to special education program improvement, information dissemination, research and evaluation activities are up for reauthorization. What “reauthorization” means in this context is that Congress must pass a law permitting itself to appropriate funds to operate the services and requirements of Part C and D.

Who is behind the move change IDEA ’97 so significantly?

There are many theories behind why special education is under attack now. Some attribute the effort to trying to mesh special education law with the provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act which passed Congress in 2001. Others say the changes are being advocated by school-related persons and entities concerned with paperwork, timing requirements and other administrative responsibilities they claim over-burden them and deflect from their ability to concentrate on teaching activities. Still others claim that these changes are inspired by individuals and organizations who historically are insensitive to the needs of students with disabilities and their families and believe either that special education law has failed, or believe that special education law has succeeded and need not be so comprehensive or laden with the safeguards that were required in its earlier days.

Our personal view is that special education law is only one part of the safety net that was put into place and should remain in place for people with disabilities and their families. It is not just special education that is under attack in Washington today. Medicaid is under going a similar gutting. Laws protecting people with disabilities from homelessness and housing discrimination are experiencing dramatic decreases in funding or reduced protection. Legislative gains made in recent years to give people with disabilities more hope and help in being included in community settings are being threatened and many people are being forced again to look to larger facilities as the only remaining living setting for people with disabilities. Surely part of this change – this threat to what we have fought so long and hard to achieve for people with disabilities – is a product of the current Administration’s budgetary priorities and declining governmental revenues. We think that creates a need for ALL of us to be more vocal and to stand up for ourselves and our family members who have disabilities so that our funding needs are not permitted to fall any further down in the budget priority list. We also think that part of what is driving the current action to weaken the federal special education laws is a belief on the part of many in the Executive and Legislative branches that States should have more control over both educational policy and educational funding, and that the federal government should give that power to the states. We reject that theory because our nation’s history, from before the civil war to the present, has been that states often have been unwilling or unable to create or enforce the basic human rights, including the right to a free appropriate public education, that we have been able to achieve through national law. Again, state’s rights seems to be a popular cry in Washington, but where essential human rights and dignity are at stake, we can not entrust not can we trust states to either legislate inclusive policy or to fund it, especially when, as now, state governmental revenues are being sorely impacted by federal budgetary priorities and practices.

Some might look at the family perspective or the family point of view in this special education battle as rhetoric. We think that when organizations and individuals form around talking points and common criticisms of the proposed amendments some rhetoric is necessary to offset the highly organized, well-oiled and heavily taxpayer funded lobby operated by school administrators and school boards. Some common voice from the families is essential if for no other reason than to let Congress know we are out here, we are watching AND we vote. But we know from our own experience that talking points only go so far in describing what life looks like for the individual family. Frankly, we can’t create or pay for a lobby organization any where near the equal of our opponents in this battle. We are too busy fighting for ourselves, our families and our family members who have disabilities. This website is but one of many individual and small group activities that have sprung up since March to fight the powerful individuals and organizations that have the current administrations ear. We are proud of what we have been able to do as a website and are equally proud of what hundreds of thousands of others involved in the fight to save IDEA have been able to do in their communities, states and in cyberspace.

We make no apology. Our parents and grandparents fought for decades to force open the doors of free public education – Ben Franklin’s greatest idea – to children with disabilities. Those doors were not opened to our children until our country was 199 years old. We do grave injustice to our fore-parents and their efforts, and even graver injustice to ourselves and our children and their expectations if we stand by while these gains are taken from us. For us it is not rhetoric, it is reality. If we won’t fight for our own kids who will?

We have eight days to solidify our voices and express them to our Senators before the public comment period established by the HELP Committee is closed. After these eight days pass the ball rests squarely on the floor of the Senate. We can continue our fight, but have been told in no uncertain terms that further changes will be unlikely if not impossible. We don’t have to accept that, nor will we, but we must do what we can, working individually and together, to make the next eight days count. Our children are counting on us.

Never question the motivation or determination of parents who are protecting their children.

Calvin and Tricia Luker
www.ourchldrenleftbehind.com

 

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